Baptism: Paul and Peter
Psalm 32:1-2 (Opening) 1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. Introduction Friday night, we showed a movie here, “Paul, Apostle of Christ”. It’s a fictional work, showing the life of Paul while imprisoned in Rome, just before his death. It’s based on legend and speculation, because we don’t have any written record of Paul’s life after his first imprisonment in Rome at the end of Luke’s book of Acts. I like that the movie introduces us to Luke, Pricilla and Aquilla, and the remnant of the congregation of Christians in Rome. The movie is based during the reign of Nero, who persecuted Christians to the point of feeding them to wild animals in the Coliseum, and burning Christians tied to stakes in the street to light the city at night. Nero wasn’t a good person. He blamed the Christians for burning the city, but most scholars believe that he was the one who actually burned the city to make room for his massive construction plans to rejuvenate the city. As the title says, the story focus on the apostle Paul and his time in Rome just before he died. But again, the movie is fiction. We don’t really know what happened to Paul after the book of Acts ends with Paul’s imprisonment in Rome because he appealed to Caesar. Saul’s Experience What we do know about Paul is interesting, to say the least. We can piece some information together from his letters, and from Acts, but we still can’t get a complete account of his life. In his letter to the congregation in Philippi, Paul explains a bit of his past. Philippians 3:4b-6 4 If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. We know from early chapters of the book of Acts that his birth name was Saul, and he was from Tarsus. Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin, and quite possibly named after the first king of Israel, who was also from the tribe of Benjamin. Saul’s religious background was that of a Pharisee. The Pharisees were very strict, legalistic Jews, who’s strict adherence to the Law of Moses was legendary. Jesus commented about the Pharisees that they tithed from their spices, a very strict interpretation of the requirement for the Jews to give ten percent of what they earned to the Temple. When Paul was arrested in the Temple, near the end of the book of Acts, he explains to the crowd who he is. Acts 22:3 3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. Cilicia is a Roman province on the southern coast of Turkey, bordering on Syria. We also find out later in Acts that Paul was born a Roman citizen, meaning that his father was a citizen. But here, Paul tells the crowd in the Temple that he was a student of one of the most famous Rabbis and members of the Sanhedrin, Gamaliel. As a member of the Sanhedrin, Gamaliel likely was present when Jesus was tried and sent to Pilate. He was a contemporary of Nicodemus, the Pharisee who met with Jesus at night and who John tells us brought embalming spices to prepare Jesus’ body after His crucifixion. We also learn in Acts that Paul’s nephew, his sister’s son, came to visit him while he was being held in Jerusalem. He came to warn Paul about a plot to kill him. It’s been speculated that Saul lived with his sister while he was studying under Gamaliel, but again, we don’t know that for sure. Paul tells us that he was zealous for God, to the point of encouraging the Jews who stoned Stephen to death. Zealous to the point of persecuting other Christians and asking the Sanhedrin for warrants to arrest any Christians found in Damascus and bring them back to Jerusalem to face trial for blasphemy. But Saul had a strange experience on the way to Damascus. As he got close to the city, he and his companions fell to the ground, and saw a bright light, but only Saul heard the voice of Jesus speaking to him. He was struck blind, and the voice of Jesus told him to go to into the city and wait for further instructions. He followed Jesus’ instructions and went into the city, and for three days he waited, fasting. Jesus then appeared to a Christian in Damascus and sent him to Saul. Think of how much faith Ananias had to have to follow Jesus’ instructions: go to this man who was sent to arrest you and take you to Jerusalem, so you can be stoned to death. Acts 9:17-19 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19 and taking food, he was strengthened. Saul believed in Jesus for three days. He had spoken with Him. He did what Jesus told him to do. But when Saul regained his sight, he was baptized. Later, when he was speaking to the crowd in the Temple, Paul told them what Ananias said to him. Acts 22:14-16 14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; 15 for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’ By Paul’s own description, he was a righteous Jew, following the Law of Moses perfectly, blameless under the Law. Why would he need to be baptized to wash away his sins? Peter’s Command Let’s rewind the story a little to Peter. When Jesus rose again, He spent time with His disciples before ascending to heaven. Luke tells us He appeared to them over 40 days. When He ascended, He told them to remain in Jerusalem until they were “clothed with power from on high”. They didn’t have to wait long for that to happen. The day of Pentecost is 50 days after Passover. Pentecost is the transliteration of the Greek word for fiftieth. The Jews called it the Feast of Weeks, because it was a week of weeks after Passover. It was also called the Festival of First Fruits. Pentecost was the celebration of the wheat harvest, and also the celebration of when God gave the Torah to Israel at Mount Sinai. This is when the first loaves of bread from that year’s wheat harvest would be offered to God as a sacrifice. Pentecost was the day that the Holy Spirit descended like tongues of fire on those of the disciples who were together in the house in Jerusalem that day. Luke doesn’t specify who the Holy Spirit fell on, but both before and after the event, he writes about Peter and the eleven, so it could have just been the apostles who were there together. It could have been all 120 disciples that were there when Matthias was chosen to replace Judas. Whoever the Holy Spirit fell on, Peter was the spokesman for the group. He addressed Jews from around the known world who were in Jerusalem for the Festival, and they had all heard them speak in their native languages. After pointing out from Joel and the Psalms some of the prophecies about Jesus, Peter pointed out that Jesus was in fact the Messiah, and they, these devout Jews from around the world, were responsible for having Him crucified. Acts 2:37-38 37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. These people knew they were responsible for the death of their Messiah. They understood their sin. They wanted to know how to resolve the problem. They felt the weight of their sins. Peter told them what to do: first, repent, that is to turn away from the sin they committed, realize what they did that was wrong and ask for forgiveness. The second thing was be immersed, because that’s what the Greek word transliterated as baptize means: to submerge in water for washing. Peter tells the people there to do both of those things, and when they do, God would grant them forgiveness. Now, let me take a short detour here. I’ve been told that all the translations we have of this verse, verse 38, are wrong. There’s one little Greek word used here that I’m told means something completely different than how it’s been translated in every written translation I can find. The Greek word is eis, and it’s translated here as “for”. I’m told that this word actually should be translated as “because of” in this verse. But that makes no sense to me. First off, there is no literary support for the Greek word “eis” ever being translated as “because of”. In fact, all the possible definitions of the word “eis” demonstrate some sort of transition or moving forward. Sometimes it’s translated as “into”, for example. “Because of” would imply a backward movement. But just reading the sentence with “because of” in it, it doesn’t make sense. “Repent and be immersed because of the forgiveness of your sins.” Why on earth would someone repent of sins that were already forgiven? But that’s the way it would read. The combination of “repent and be immersed” are connected to forgiveness of sins by the word “eis”. It’s a causative connection between the two actions and the final effect. Let’s look at a place in Matthew where Jesus is using this same Greek word in a similar context. This is Matthew’s account of Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper. Matthew 26:27-28 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus’ blood wasn’t poured out because we have the forgiveness of sins. It was poured out, that is, Jesus was sacrificed so that we could obtain forgiveness of sins. So that we could move from an unforgiven state to a forgiven state. It’s the same thing with baptism or immersion. When Peter said to repent and be immersed, it was so the people listening to him could move from an unforgiven state into a forgiven state. The people listening to Peter understood what he was saying. They all heard the same thing, and they all did what Peter said they should do. Acts 2:41 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. Those who received what Peter said were immersed. That implies to me that not everyone who was there, who heard what Peter said received what he said. Not only were the three thousand “added” that day, but they were diligent. They studied under the apostles, they learned everything they could about Jesus. They spent time with the other disciples. They shared their lives with them. Peter’s command was simple, but people still don’t quite get it, or maybe they chose to not understand because it’s so simple. Paul’s Explanation I wonder if that was a common problem, because Paul spent a lot of time explaining immersion and forgiveness. In Paul’s first letter to the congregation in Corinth, he gave them examples of their own sins they had to repent from. Just like the visitors in Jerusalem Peter preached to realized their sin, the people in Corinth also realized their sin. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. That’s some laundry list. Paul goes from sexual sins, to stealing, to addiction, to people who tricked people out of their belongings. That’s quite a wide range of things, but they all fall under what God said were sins in the last five of the 10 Commandments. And Paul points out that some of the people he was writing to in the congregation in Corinth fell into those categories. That was their lives before they became Christians. Paul says they were involved in those sins; past tense. But they were forgiven of those sins, or as he says, justified. Paul lists three things that happened. They were washed, sanctified, and justified. Let me try to explain what Paul’s talking about here. Washed is another word used for baptism or immersion. Remember, I said that the Greek word baptizo means to wash by immersing in water. That’s the same thing that Peter told the crowd on Pentecost. Be washed, baptizo. Washing leads to receiving the Holy Spirit, which is what Peter also said. Receiving the Holy Spirit sets us apart from the world. Only Christians have the Holy Spirit. That makes us sanctified, which is another word for set apart, or made holy. Third is justified. Justified is a legal term used for forgiven debts. It’s a way of balancing the books, removing the debts and zeroing everything out. So here in the first letter to Corinth, Paul is saying the same thing as Peter when he preached to the crowd on Pentecost. But Paul is saying the readers of his letter had done that, and that they were no longer trapped in the sinful lives that they were in before. Paul also wrote about God’s forgiveness to Titus. Titus was a Gentile Christian, possibly from Antioch in Syria, where Paul went early on in his Christian life. Titus went with Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem when they met with the church there about people requiring Christians to be circumcised. We read about that in Paul’s letter to the congregations in Galatia. When writing to Titus, Paul reminds him and the congregations on the island of Crete that they were all in the same boat before they became Christians. Titus 3:3-7 3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Paul’s list here is less specific than when he wrote to Corinth, but basically the same thing. We were all slaves to various passions and pleasures. We did what felt good, and didn’t pay attention to the consequences, because we didn’t believe there were any consequences. But then, somehow, we learned about the goodness and loving kindness of God toward us. When we understood God’s goodness and loving kindness toward us, He saved us. Notice how He saved us. He didn’t save us because of anything we had done as supposed righteous people. He mercifully saved us by washing of regeneration, and by renewal of the Holy Spirit. The word regeneration could be translated as rebirth. Remember, I said that washing was another way of saying baptizing, because baptizo means to wash by immersing in water. God also puts a new spirit in us, the Holy Spirit, during that washing. The only reason we can have the Holy Spirit in us is because Jesus poured it out on us. And because of His gracious mercy, we are justified. There’s that legal word again that means that your debts are forgiven. All that tied together gives us the hope of eternal life with Him, because if we remain in Him, doing His will and believing in Him, then we will be included in the Church, His bride, on the Last Day, and live with Him forever. Let’s back up and look at that “regeneration” or “rebirth” thing again. I kind of glossed over that. Paul says the “washing of regeneration” or “washing of rebirth”. That sounds a lot like something Jesus said when He was talking to Nicodemus that night in John chapter 3. John 3:3, 5 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Born again, reborn, washing of regeneration or washing of rebirth. Paul says in Titus 3:5-7 that God saved us through the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit. Peter said in Acts 2:38 repent and be immersed and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Sounds like water and the Spirit to me, just like Jesus was talking about. conclusion Movies are great. I love going to movies, I love watching movies at home, and I love watching movies with other people. But if it’s a movie that’s “based on” something in the Bible, you have two choices. You can suspend disbelief and decide to roll with the fiction, or you can check the facts and study to see what really happened, if the story is in the Bible at all. We don’t have those options when we’re reading the Bible. The Bible is the inspired word of God. It is communication to us from God Himself. The Bible doesn’t contradict itself. It doesn’t say one thing in one place, and then say something different in another place. Today I’ve shown you several places where the Bible says the same thing. Each was written by a different human author but inspired by the Holy Spirit. Each uses different words to convey the same information. Let me see if I can clearly and concisely tell you what is said. To be a Christian, to enter the kingdom of God, you must believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that His death was a sacrifice for your sins. You must believe that He rose from the dead on the third day, and later ascended into heaven to sit at God’s right hand. You must repent of your sins and be immersed in water for the forgiveness of your sins, and to receive the Holy Spirit. This immersion also demonstrates your belief, and reenacts Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Then, like the 3000 that were immersed on the day of Pentecost, you have to devote yourself to studying God’s word, and spending time with your brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s all in there. Have you obeyed? Hebrews 9:18-22 (Closing) 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Bible Study John 4:1-3 1Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2(although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), 3 he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. John 13:1-11 1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” John 15:1-4 1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. John 1:35-42 35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).